Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fishing Etiquette

There is a great deal of information about fishing etiquette on the internet and I certainly can't contribute much. Here you can find a pretty good list of things that a lot of anglers adhere to.

I've seen a lot of things over the years that could have been avoided. Arguments , threats and fights have all occurred over petty disputes. Things like this are ridiculous and usually end up ruining the day's fishing for everyone involved

Probably the most important thing to remember is that everyone who goes fishing does so for the same reason , to have fun. The best way to avoid arguments is by being respectful. Try to keep a reasonable distance between yourself and other anglers and avoid crossing lines.

Of course , anyone who has ever fished a busy pier or at Cape Point in North Carolina knows it's not always possible to avoid the crowd and the inevitable tangles that occur. It happens. Getting angry won't help. The best way to avoid getting tangled is to use the proper equipment. Heavier sinkers will hold your rigs in place when the water gets rough so they don't get tangled with other people's line. If another angler keeps crossing your line offer to help them out. You might make a friend.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making Your Own Rigs

I've put off writing this article for quite a while because I'm a horrible photographer. I've decided to do it today because bottom fishing rigs are one of the most effective surf fishing rigs and every surf fisherman will use them at some point. Monofilament is hard to take pictures of so the rig shown here is tied with 60 lb. line. I normally use 30-40 lb. test for these rigs and have never had any problems.

To start you'll need a 5' piece of mono , a pyramid sinker and a swivel.


The main part of this rig is the Dropper Loop knot. I've never been satisfied with the way online sources show how to tie it , so I'll go through the way I tie it. Begin by making a loop and wrapping the line around itself.


Continue wrapping the left hand side around the loop for a total of 3-4 wraps , more for lighter lines. Pull the line up to make a smaller loop and then make 3-4 more wraps to the left of the smaller loop. It should look like this when you are finished :


Next pull the main loop up through the smaller loop like this :


I normally use my teeth to hold the loop while I pull the knot tight , but you can have someone help you or put the loop over something. You'll want to pull the loop out as far as you want it , before pulling it tight. I like mine to be around three inches. It should look like this when you're done :


You can tie two or even three of these on your rig. Personally I use three. When tying the second and third loops , you can adjust their position by pulling on the left hand side of the loop to move them closer to the first knot and then resizing your loop by pulling on the free end on the left side. Once you have your loops finished , you can tie a swivel to one end and a pyramid sinker to the other. Alternatively , you can put a snap swivel at the bottom so you can change the sinker if you need to.

Now you'll need to add hooks. I use 1/0 stainless O'shaugnessy hooks for most species. I also use fluorescent plastic beads. First pinch the Dropper Loop between your fingers and thread it through the bead and then the eye of the hook.


Now pull the hook back through the loop.


After you pull it tight you should have something that looks like this :


I like the fluorescent orange beads for a lot of species because they closely resemble the color of sand flea eggs. They seem to attract more strikes than other colors , but you can also experiment. Dark red would be good as would blue , purple and chartreuse. After you have hooks on all of your loops , you should have a bottom fishing rig that looks something like this :


This rig easily produces over half of the fish I catch. You can use the basic principles shown above to tie several other rigs  , like the Straw Rigs used for Spanish Mackerel and Sabiki Rigs used for catching bait. You can also use Surgeon's Loops to tie this rig , but the Dropper Loop makes a better rig in my opinion.

Have a great week!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Callinectes Sapidus or The Atlantic Blue Crab

One of my favorite types of seafood is the Blue Crab. They are common along the Eastern Coast of the United States and are considered a delicacy by many. Blue crabs are often sold at seafood markets by the bushel or by the dozen. In areas far from the coast , fresh blue crabs can fetch as much as fifteen dollars per dozen.

Blue crabs were over fished for a long time. It eventually became necessary for many states to implement harvest limits and regulations. In many areas it is illegal to harvest female crabs at certain times of the year. You should always check local laws before keeping any crabs and learn how to identify male and female crabs. Personally , I suggest just keeping the male crabs and leaving the females to reproduce.

Catching blue crabs is very simple. The simplest way is to tie a raw chicken neck or drumstick to a length of string and throw it out into the water. Use the string to slowly pull it back in. Crabs are greedy and usually any that find your bait will hold on to it long enough for you to get them out of the water. This can be a fun activity to do with kids , just watch out for those claws!

My favorite way to catch blue crabs is by using a two ring crab trap from a pier. Tie a chicken neck to the bottom and lower it into the water with light rope. When it reaches the bottom , this type of trap lays flat allowing crabs to find the bait. Once it has been in the water for ten to fifteen minutes , pull the rope up quickly. This lifts the outer ring of the trap and catches any crabs that were on the bait. After you pull it up you can sort out the keepers , check your bait and send it back down. If you are fishing and crabbing at the same time another good bait for crabs is fish. I like to use the head and body of fish that I have filleted for cut bait. Just make sure the pier you are on allows crabbing.

Whether you catch them yourself or buy them , blue crabs are delicious steamed. They are difficult to clean the first couple of times , but easy once you get the hang of it. Find out everything you ever wanted to know about blue crabs here.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

DIY Fishing

One of the great things about fishing is the fact that it offers so many opportunities for " Do It Yourself " projects. Anglers who are good with their hands and a bit creative are constantly making new and effective fishing gear. Some of the best kept secrets of many fishermen are hand made lures , flies and jigs.

Hand made lures will often produce better than commercially available lures because of small differences in the way they are made. There are kits available to make a wide variety of baits that can be customized to fit your needs. It's even possible to make your own custom soft plastics. With a fly tying kit , you can get started tying your own flies and jigs for a variety of fish. The possibilities are endless.

Of course , anglers aren't limited to just making lures. You can find everything you need to make your own rods online and even parts to customize your reels. It doesn't end there either. I've seen some pretty nice fishing carts and rod holders made out of PVC pipe.

I could spend days describing custom gear I've seen over the years and still not cover all of it. Many fishermen have a pioneering spirit and will make something they need if they can't find it for sale. Making your own gear can also save you a significant amount of money. 

It is an amazing feeling to catch fish using lures or equipment you've made yourself. I'll be doing a few posts over the next month covering a couple of easy DIY projects , for anyone who is interested.

Have a great week!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Driving on the Beach

Driving on the beach can be a great way to find new fishing grounds and enjoy quiet stretches of beach not frequented by others. There are several things you need to do before hitting the sand in pursuit of fish.

Unfortunately beach driving is a politically charged activity in many areas now. It's always a good idea to check local laws for restricted areas , speed limits and times of day when you are allowed to drive on the beach. In North Carolina one of the best resources for information about beach closures and regulations is IslandFreePress.org

It is generally not recommended to drive on the beach with 2 wheel drive vehicles or all wheel drive vehicles with low ground clearance. Trucks and SUV's with 4 wheel drive and adequate ground clearance are more suitable for driving in the sand. Taking a vehicle out on the beach that isn't capable of handling the sand is a good way to rack up an expensive towing bill.

The most important thing to remember is to let some air out of your tires. Airing all four tires on your vehicle down to 18-20 psi helps maintain traction in the sand. I recommend keeping a high quality tire gauge in your vehicle when you are headed to the beach. Another handy item to have is a 12 volt air compressor. This will allow you to inflate your tires after you are done driving on the beach.

Once you've let some air out of your tires it's time to hit the sand. It's a good idea to put your vehicle in four wheel drive before you go out onto the sand. Most of the time there will be tracks from other vehicles that you can follow , but if there aren't any drive on the packed sand close to the water. Avoid getting your vehicle in the water because saltwater is very corrosive. When you've reached your destination park in the middle of the beach , leaving enough room for others to get around you.

It's worth mentioning that driving in sand can cause a vehicle's transmission to overheat. For this reason it's always a good idea to check your transmission fluid and coolant before you go. Many people who regularly drive on the beach prefer vehicles with a towing package from the factory or an aftermarket transmission cooler.

When you drive on the beach pay close attention to any signs marking restricted areas and follow the posted speed limits , but most of all have fun.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Effects of Wind on Fishing Conditions

Wind is one of several factors that can be good or bad for the fisherman. Too much wind can ruin the fishing because you won't be able to keep your bait where you want it. Strong winds will also churn up the surf making it harder for fish to find your bait. However , some fish do prefer a little bit rougher water. While I'm not an expert , I'll try to explain why you should take wind speed and direction into consideration when planning a fishing trip.

Wind is nearly constant in most coastal areas. It can be light and variable on some days or from the same direction with great force on others. Over thousands of years the wind and waves from powerful storms have sculpted our coastlines and continue to do so today. This is how new " holes " are made at the beach that attract both fish and anglers.

Of course , you probably won't be fishing during a powerful storm. There are other things that can directly be attributed to the wind. With a strong westerly wind , temperatures in the surf here on the East Coast will drop. Warmer water is pushed offshore and the species that prefer warm water go with it. Grass and other debris will be pushed out of inlets and bays into the surf. Fishing conditions suffer under a stiff westerly wind. Sea grass gets tangled in your lines and warm water species aren't present. It's still possible to catch fish , but not as many.

When the wind is blowing from the east , warm water is pushed onshore and this sometimes leads to excellent fishing. As long as the wind speed stays below 15 mph the surf will clear up and schools of fish will start to come in. Some of my best days of fishing were when the wind was coming out of the east. Easterly winds can work against you though. At wind speeds over 15 mph , the surf will get rough and it becomes increasingly more difficult to cast , especially with smaller artificial lures.

Perfect weather conditions for me would be an overcast day with steady winds out of the Northeast at 5-10 mph. If I waited for perfect conditions I wouldn't fish very often.

Have a great day!

Monday, October 11, 2010

5 Fishing Knots I Use Often

Years ago when I first started fishing I learned to tie the Improved Cinch Knot. For a long time this was the only knot I knew how to tie and I used it for everything. When I matured as a fisherman and started chasing after more and bigger fish it became necessary to learn some new knots.

Let me start by saying that the knot is the most critical connection between you and the fish. Poorly tied knots can make you lose fish and expensive lures. In most cases the line will break at or near the knot. The best way to prevent this is to tie your knot correctly and check it often for nicks and abrasions , retying as needed. It's a good idea to moisten the knot before you pull it tight to prevent damage to the line. I recommend practicing any new knots you learn before you're on the water.

The type of line you are using is also important when deciding which knots to use. Many knots will not hold when tied with heavy monofilament or any of the braided super lines. I recommend experimenting with different lines and knots until you find what works best for the way you fish.

The first knot I recommend is the Palomar Knot. This is the main knot I use for tying hooks and lures to the main line. I can't say enough about how great this knot is. It's easy to tie and very strong. The Palomar Knot is one of the few knots that works well with both mono and braided line. It's a knot I think every fisherman should know how to tie.

The second knot I recommend is the Albright Knot. This is a great knot for attaching shock leaders to the main line and for joining lines of different diameters. It works great for joining braid to heavy mono. There are several variations of this knot around including the Improved Albright and the Reverse Albright. I use this knot for shock leaders and for short leaders when using lures for Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel.

The third knot I recommend is the Dropper Loop. This knot is useful for making your own bottom fishing rigs. You can also use it to tie Sabiki type rigs for catching bait. While it may seem a little bit hard to tie when you first learn it , this knot is certainly worth the trouble. There is an easier way to tie it that I'll discuss here on the blog soon.

The fourth knot I recommend is the Surgeon's Loop. It can also be used to tie bottom fishing rigs. This knot is good for attaching leaders or hooks to the main line by using a Handshake Loop connection. I mainly use this knot for attaching swivels and sinkers to my bottom fishing rigs.

The last knot I recommend is the Uni Knot. This is a useful and easy to tie knot. There are many variations of this knot out there that allow you to use it for several different purposes. It can be used for attaching terminal tackle , lures and also for joining line to leaders. This is one of the easier knots to tie in my opinion.

No matter what knots you decide to use , it's always important to test the strength of the knot before you cast. A few good tugs on the line are usually enough to determine if the knot will hold. Some of the more complicated knots will slip if not tied correctly , so it's always better to check them than to risk losing a fish.

Have a great week!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Morone Saxatilis or The Striped Bass : Part 2

Here on Smith Mountain Lake we have a decent population of Striped Bass. While there are several popular ways to catch these fish , my favorite has always been the use of live bait. I use a casting net to catch 6-8 inch gizzard shad here at the lake. They can usually be found in shallow water at the back of small coves.

I use two simple rigs when live bait fishing for Stripers. The simplest one is what I call a " Free Line ". To tie this , attach a barrel swivel to a 3' length of 20 lb. fluorocarbon , then tie this to the main line. Tie a 3/0 hook to the leader and you're done. Hook a shad through the nose and fish this rig straight behind the boat , letting the shad swim freely. The other rig I use is called a " Down Rig " and it is tied the same as the free line  , with the addition of a 2 ounce egg sinker and a glass bead on the main line. This rig is fished off of the sides of the boat. I watch the depth finder and if I am seeing fish 20 feet deep , I'll put out two or three of these rigs 15-18 feet down.

I fish these rigs in the main channel of the lake. I try to find areas with points and steep drop offs and position my boat so that the wind and current will push me across the points.

Another popular method of catching Stripers here on the lake is trolling. You can troll with a variety of baits , one of the most popular being the Sassy Shad. These can be fished on large jigheads or umbrella rigs and can be very effective in the summer.

Also worth mentioning is the use of artificial bait. Bucktails are a great option. Fish them slowly so they are just off of the bottom. Other good choices are shallow running crankbaits and jerkbaits. One of my favorites is the Storm Thunderstick. I have had a great deal of success fishing this lure parallel to the bank at night.

In saltwater , anglers targeting Striped Bass use Fish Finder rigs and cut bait similar to what is used when Drum fishing. Live eels are also a popular choice. Stripers can often be found around pier and bridge pilings at night , especially in areas where bait fish are drawn to lights. These fish will also hang out under the cleaning tables at some of the piers , especially when a lot of fish are being cleaned.

No matter how you catch them , Striped Bass always put up a good fight. They are also excellent table fare when cleaned properly. To clean a Striper , scale and fillet one side , then place the fillet skin side down. Hold the fillet by the tail end and run the fillet knife between the skin and meat , removing the skin. Turn the fillet over and cut out all of the red meat along the center of the fillet. Now cut the fillet into chunks and cook it using your favorite recipe.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Morone Saxatilis or The Striped Bass : Part 1

One of my favorite fish to catch this time of year is the Striped Bass also known as Linesides , Rock or Rockfish , and Striper. An anadromous species , the Striped Bass spends most of it's life in saltwater and returns to freshwater to spawn. In the early part of the twentieth century it was discovered that these fish could survive in freshwater year round , but with limited spawning success. They were introduced to many large reservoirs throughout the U.S. and continue to be stocked in many places because of their value as a game fish.

There are large populations of these fish on the East Coast of the U.S.  , with one of the more notable fisheries being the Chesapeake Bay. They provide many charter captains with a viable source of income during cooler months. Anglers on the East Coast target these fish from the surf and from bridges and piers throughout the winter months. Due to their popularity , there are numerous clubs , organizations , websites and internet forums dedicated to this magnificent fish.

There are a lot of rules and regulations for this species. In 2007 the Striped Bass was designated as a protected game fish by the federal government. Most states with populations of these fish have slot limits and/or minimum length restrictions. Stripers have a high mortality rate when caught during the summer due to lactic acid build up in their muscles. For this reason several states recommend that you stop fishing after catching your limit in the summer due to the fact that catch and release is ineffective.

The Striped Bass can be caught using a variety of different methods including surf casting , trolling , drifting , fly fishing and the use of artificial baits. I'll discuss some of the most effective ways for catching landlocked and saltwater Stripers in my next post.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

8 Things I Wouldn't Go Fishing Without

We all know the basic equipment required to fish.You wouldn't think of going without a rod , reel , hooks and bait. Today I'm going to share a short list of other things that I use at some point during most of my fishing trips.

1. Rain gear. I've discussed this here on the blog before , but it's worth mentioning again. If the forecast isn't calling for rain I'll still take a rain jacket , just in case.

2. A good knife. I can't stress how important this is. You'll use it to cut line , to cut bait , maybe even to clean a few fish. I carry a pocket knife that I use for cutting line and bait and I keep a fillet knife for cleaning fish in my tackle box.

3. Needle nose pliers. I like the ones with a side cutter. The side cutter is the best way to cut heavy mono used for leaders. The pliers themselves are perfect for removing hooks from fish.

4. Extra line. A big fish can be hard on your line. They can also take all of your line. I've been " spooled " a couple of times over the years and I always keep at least one extra spool of line in my tackle box.

5. Knife/hook sharpener. A handy tool to have with you on any fishing trip. The small pocket sized sharpeners are perfect for sharpening dull hooks or touching up your bait cutting knife.

6. Rod tips and glue. While I try to take care of my rods , it's still possible to break the tip off. A friend gave me a small box of rod tips of assorted sizes and it has saved more than one fishing trip. I carry a small tube of Super Glue and I can usually make a temporary repair to salvage the rest of the days fishing.

7. A hand towel. A good thing to have around to wipe bait , fish scales and other gunk off of your hands and gear. It's also a good thing to have around should a seagull or some other unfortunate bird get tangled in your line. You can put the towel over their head and they will calm down and sit still almost immediately , allowing you to untangle them.

8. A tape measure. Useful for ensuring the legality of your catch and also for taking measurements of species that are catch and release only. You can use the formula
(( Girth x Girth) x Length) / 800 to estimate the weight of a fish. There are also several species specific formulas out there , should you ever need them.

It's also a good idea to take a few minutes to go over the rules and regulations for the place you will be fishing. I fish in several states and have trouble keeping up with the changes from year to year , but it's a good practice to get into no matter where you fish.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Taking Kids Fishing

One of my favorite things in the world is to see a child's face light up with joy after catching their first fish. It doesn't matter if it's a big fish or not. That first fish is a memory that lasts a lifetime. Over the years , I've been lucky enough to help a lot of kids catch their first fish and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. Today I'd like to share a few tips to make your next trip with your young ones more enjoyable.

First , buy them a good rod and reel. Some may disagree with this , but I feel it is one of the most important things you can do for a child who is interested in fishing. By purchasing a good quality reel you save the child and yourself a great deal of frustration. I always try to think about whether or not I would use the rod and reel , if it's not good enough for me it certainly isn't good enough for my son. I recommend something similar to a Shakespeare Ugly Stik 6' MH casting rod with a Zebco 33. This combo can stand up to a lot of abuse and is capable of handling most fish.

Second , get them involved! This has to be age appropriate  , but let the child do as much as they are capable of doing safely. Younger children may be content to just reel in the fish , but as they get older they will be more interested in the whole process. Most kids will feel so accomplished when they have caught a fish that they baited , cast to and set the hook on by themselves. There are so many learning opportunities for children who like to fish. Everything from tying simple knots to learning about conservation by practicing catch and release can be great ways to introduce your child to the amazing things that happen underwater. Just be patient and explain the why's and how's in detail to them , you'll be surprised by how fast they learn.

Third , fish for whatever is biting. Children aren't picky. I've seen first time fisherman of all ages get just as excited about catching a small Spot as many seasoned anglers do after catching a trophy sized fish. This will also fend off boredom. Most kids won't stick with it if there aren't any fish being caught. Let your child dictate the pace and duration of the fishing trip. When they get tired and cranky it's time to go home. Keeping them out when they are tired of fishing usually makes everyone miserable.

Last , but most important , have fun! That's the whole purpose of taking kids fishing. Take lots of pictures so you'll always have something to remember these special times. Fishing can be a great way to spend time with your children and get them outside for fresh air and exercise. Be sure to take plenty of snacks and cold drinks and be sure to use sunscreen. Enjoy the time on the water with your little ones , they grow up too fast!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sciaenops Ocellatus or The Red Drum : Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series , the Red Drum is a hard fighting fish that likes rough water. Because of this , there are some specialized techniques necessary to be successful when targeting these fish.

Most Drum fishermen will eventually start using 10-12 foot casting rods and baitcasting reels , but most of us start out with more affordable and easier to use spinning outfits. Either way , it is important to remember that you will need high line capacity to handle these strong fighters. Large Drums are capable of pulling 200+ yards of line off of the spool during their initial run , so buy reels that can handle 250 or more yards of 20lb. line. The longer rods are necessary when using heavy weights in rough water. Shorter rods just don't stand up to the abuse caused by 8 ounce sinkers and they don't cast as far either.

Water conditions dictate what size sinker you should use. In prime drum fishing conditions at places like Cape Point on the Outer Banks of North Carolina , 6 to 8 ounce pyramid sinkers are almost always required to hold your bait in place. This necessitates the use of a Shock Leader to prevent break offs during the cast. I recommend using a leader that is about twice the length of your rod and wraps around the spool of your reel at least 3 times , but you can shorten or lengthen it to suit the way you cast. When using casting gear make sure the knot used to attach the leader to the main line doesn't lay under your thumb at the start of the cast , and with spinning reels make sure the knot is at the bottom of the spool to avoid tangles. A good rule of thumb for leaders is ten pounds for every ounce of weight , though I rarely use over 50 lb. line for shock leaders.

After you have your shock leader tied on it's time to get rigged up to catch a Drum. The most basic rig used by drum fishermen is the " Fish Finder " rig and it is simple to set up. The reason this rig is so effective is the sinker slide that allows the main line to pass through freely so the fish doesn't feel the weight of the sinker until the hook is set. Thread the shock leader through the sinker slide and attach a brass barrel swivel to the end of the leader. Now attach a 3-4 foot length of 40 lb. line to the other end of the swivel and tie a 4/0 to 8/0 circle hook to the end. That's it. You can use a snap swivel instead of a sinker slide for this rig , but most prefer the slides because they seem to be a little bit easier on your line. There are several variations of this rig out there that I may cover at a later time. Most notable of these is the addition of a dropper loop 2 feet above the hook to which you can attach a hook dressed with chartreuse hair or feathers. This " teaser " makes the rig more effective for smaller drum in my opinion.

The same rig can be used for puppy drum with the use of smaller hooks , but I will often just use a regular bottom fishing rig for them. These smaller fish will also take artificial baits at certain times of the year when they are feeding heavily. My favorite artificial for pups has always been a chartreuse curly tail grub fished on a red jig head.

Because of their rapid growth rate , Red Drums of all sizes will take a variety of baits. For smaller fish I like using sand fleas , cut bait , peeler crabs and occasionally shrimp. For larger fish my favorite baits would be spot heads , mullet and menhaden. There are lots of different opinions out there regarding the best baits for drum. I don't think any bait is better than another , but it depends on what the fish are eating on any given day. It's always a good idea to experiment with different baits.

Regardless of how you choose to fish for them , these amazing fish are a favorite of many anglers because of the hard fight they put up when hooked. I hope they become one of your favorites too.

Have a great week!